SARANSK, Russia (AP) – Yuya Osako had a surprise in store for those who gave Japan little chance of competing with Colombia at the World Cup.
Osako’s gritty determination to set up one goal and his 73rd-minute header from Keisuke Honda’s corner kick lifted Japan to a surprising 2-1 victory over the Colombians on Tuesday.
Osako won a bouncing ball to begin an early sequence that led to a penalty, put Colombia a man down and gave Japan a 1-0 lead when Shinji Kagawa converted from the spot.
Colombia had to play all but the opening minutes with 10 men after Carlos Sanchez received a red card for blocking Kagawa’s shot on goal with his extended right arm.
Colombia equalized late in the first half on Juan Quintero’s rolling but accurate free kick, which sneaked inside the right post.
Japan became the latest side to pull off an upset at the World Cup, joining Mexico, Switzerland and Iceland in earning surprising results. This score line was particularly unexpected in light of the fact that Japan had changed coaches shortly before the tournament, and because no Asian team had ever previously defeated a South American side in 17 World Cup meetings.
Not only was Osako instrumental in both goals, he sprawled to block a close-range shot by Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez in the waning minutes.
Not a bad way to provide joy to a country recovering from a deadly earthquake in Osaka a day earlier. The result also brought a smile to Japanese princess Takamdo, who attended the match.
Colombia soundly defeated Japan 4-1 when the sides met in group play in Brazil four years ago, and the Japanese also began the game without Okazaki, a Leicester forward who has been trying to overcome a sore calf and was replaced in the starting lineup by Osako. Okazaki did get in the game, but not until the 85th minute.
But it was apparent within minutes that the rematch would not go so smoothly for Colombia, much to the chagrin of entire sections of the Mordovia Arena bathed in yellow.
In the third minute, Osako won a bouncing ball from defender Davinson Sanchez and broke in alone toward goal. Goalkeeper David Ospina blocked Osako’s shot, but Kagawa pounced on the rebound and quickly got off a shot on goal that drew Sanchez’s red card and the penalty.
Kagawa converted by directing his shot inside the right post.
Colombia began the game without Rodriguez, a Bayern Munich midfielder who was the leading scorer at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. But Rodriguez had been laboring with a sore left calf recently, casting doubt over his readiness to play.
He came on to join captain Radamel Falcao in the 59th minute, but his best chances were thwarted by Japan’s desperate defending near the goal.
World Cup games are known for starting on time. But not this one.
When the game was due to officially start, Falcao walked across to Japan’s side of the field and spoke to referee Damir Skomina in a discussion that lasted beyond the official countdown to kickoff.
When fans let out the customary cheer to mark the beginning of the match, the teams were still standing still. Moments later, Skomina ordered both teams to change sides and the match commenced shortly after.
Only minutes later came the wild sequence which set up the opening goal.
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